Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/26/2017
Format: 05/26/2017
In Re: Lena G.
E2016-00798-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert G. Lincoln

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the child, Lena G. (“the Child”), who was fifteen years of age at the conclusion of trial. On October 8, 2013, the Washington County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) granted temporary legal custody of the Child to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). The Child was immediately placed in foster care, where she has remained since that date. Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order on June 11, 2014, adjudicating the Child dependent and neglected in the care of the parents. On November 19, 2014, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the Child’s mother, Sherry G. (“Mother”), and her father, Teddy G. (“Father”). The trial court admitted Mother’s hospital records as an exhibit during trial over her objection. Following a bench trial, the trial court terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Child after determining by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the parents failed to provide a suitable home for the Child, (2) the parents failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the permanency plans, (3) the conditions that led to the removal of the Child from the parents’ custody still persisted, and (4) Mother was mentally incompetent to adequately care for the Child. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Child. Both Mother and Father have appealed. Having determined that the Child had not been removed from the parents’ home for six months by court order when the petition to terminate parental rights was filed, we reverse the trial court’s ruling regarding the statutory ground of persistence of conditions as to both parents. We conclude that the trial court erred in admitting Mother’s hospital records but determine this error to be harmless. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Child.

Washington County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
Joshlin Renee Woodruff by and through Dorothy Cockrell, et al. v. Armie Walker, M.D., et al.
W2016-01895-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle Atkins

The plaintiffs, a mother and her child, filed this health care liability action in September 2015. The complaint alleged that both plaintiffs suffered permanent injuries resulting from the defendant health care providers’ negligent care during the child’s birth in June 2012. The defendants moved to dismiss the mother’s claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(1) and to dismiss the claims of both plaintiffs based on expiration of the three-year statute of repose in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(3). With regard to the statute of limitations, the plaintiffs argued that the mother’s claims were timely filed because the discovery rule delayed the accrual of her claims until March 2015 and because she had been “adjudicated incompetent” within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 such that the limitations period was tolled as to her claims. With regard to the statute of repose, the plaintiffs argued that their claims were timely filed because they were entitled to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which extends the three-year statute of repose by 120 days when sufficient pre-suit notice is given. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that neither the discovery rule nor Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 applied to the mother’s claims and that her claims were therefore filed after expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. Additionally, the trial court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient presuit notice because the medical authorizations included in their pre-suit notice did not permit the defendants to obtain their complete medical records. Specifically, the trial court found the authorizations insufficient because they did not permit the defendants to obtain relevant medical records from prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the delivery. The trial court therefore concluded that the plaintiffs were not entitled to rely on the 120-day extended filing period and their claims were filed after expiration of the three-year statute of repose. The trial court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims, and the plaintiffs appealed. Having reviewed the record submitted on appeal, we hold that the trial court properly dismissed the mother’s claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. We further hold, however, that the trial court erred in dismissing the child’s claims based on expiration of the three-year statute of repose. Records from prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the delivery were the mother’s medical records, and the child could not have unilaterally authorized their release. As such, his failure to do so did not render the medical authorizations provided with his pre-suit notice insufficient. The defendants have not asserted any other deficiencies in the child’s pre-suit notice. Because the child provided sufficient pre-suit notice, he was entitled to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which extended the filing period by 120 days. The child’s claims were therefore timely filed prior to expiration of the extended statute of repose in October 2015. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Madison County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
City of Chattanooga, et al. v. Tax Year 2011 City Delinquent Real Estate Taxpayers
E2016-01853-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

This case involves a request to redeem real property following a tax sale. The trial court entered an order of redemption, divested title out of the tax sale purchaser, and directed the court clerk to refund the tax sale purchaser the money expended to purchase the property, plus other sums. We affirm. Finding the appeal to be frivolous, we remand for a determination of damages pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-1-122.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
Tony Frank et al. v. Ronnie Fields
E2016-00809-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri S. Bryant

This case involves a claim of undue influence against an attorney-in-fact for his role in changing bank accounts and certificates of deposit owned by the principal to be payable on death to the attorney-in-fact. The principal, or decedent in this action, died at the age of ninety-five in January 2012. The decedent was survived by two nieces and three nephews, one of whom, the defendant, was the decedent’s attorney-in-fact and the personal representative of his estate. The decedent’s two nieces and one other nephew filed a complaint alleging undue influence arising from a confidential relationship. Following a bench trial, the trial court dismissed the complaint upon finding that although a presumption of undue influence had been raised by a confidential relationship between the attorney-in-fact and the decedent, the attorney-in-fact had successfully rebutted the presumption. The plaintiffs appeal. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
Timothy Roberson v. Cherry Lindamood, et al
M2016-01797-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

An inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction filed this lawsuit against three prison employees seeking to recover certain personal property. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice based on the inmate’s failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-805, which requires inmates wanting to proceed in forma pauperis to submit to the trial court a complete list of every previous lawsuit or claim filed by the inmate. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Wayne County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
In re Casyn B., et al.
M2016-01958-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy R. Brock

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights. The court terminated the father’s rights on the grounds of abandonment by engaging in conduct that exhibited wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, as well as substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan. The court found that termination was in the children’s best interests. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Coffee County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
In Re March 9, 2012 Order
W2016-02015-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This appeal involves an attempt to set aside an allegedly void order pursuant to Rule 60.02(3) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court dismissed the petition for multiple reasons, including res judicata. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
Kristie Linley Sibley v. Corey D. Sibley
M2015-01795-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

This is a divorce case. Wife was granted a divorce due to Husband’s inappropriate marital conduct. The trial court then made a division of the parties’ marital property and debt, which included an award to Wife of the marital residence and the equity therein. The court further awarded Wife $1,100 per month for 36 months in rehabilitative alimony and $3,000 in attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. Husband appeals the trial court’s awards of the marital residence and alimony to Wife. Wife seeks attorney’s fees for defending this appeal. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings. Specifically, we affirm the trial court’s award of the marital residence to Wife, and we vacate and remand for additional findings on the issues of alimony and attorney’s fees. We deny Wife’s request for attorney’s fees on appeal.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/25/17
Tamala Teague, et al. v. Garnette Kidd, et al.
E2016-01995-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri S. Bryant

In this fraudulent conveyance action, a trial by jury resulted in judgment for decedent’s estate against defendants. Defendants filed a motion for a new trial asserting that: (1) the trial court erred in failing to grant a mistrial after counsel for decedent’s estate made a comment about one of the defendant’s credibility from “past cases” purportedly in the presence of the jury; and (2) no evidence supports the jury verdict. The trial court denied the post-trial motion and affirmed the jury verdict. Defendants appealed. We affirm.

Polk County Court of Appeals 05/25/17
In Re: Jayson M.
E2016-02286-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

Father appeals the termination of his parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit, contending that he was not properly notified of the hearing to terminate his rights and was denied his right to counsel. Upon review of the record, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/25/17
Katrina Parrish v. Michael Griggs
W2015-02504-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James Y. Ross

This appeal involves a petition to establish paternity, which was filed when the child was a teenager. DNA testing established the father as the biological father of the child. In the father’s counter-petition for custody, he claimed that, shortly after the child’s birth, the mother informed him that he was not the child’s father. After a two-day trial, the juvenile court entered an order establishing the father’s parentage, naming the mother primary residential parent, and changing the child’s surname to the father’s surname. The court also ordered the father to pay child support retroactive to the date of the child’s birth. On appeal, the father challenges the court’s decision regarding retroactive child support and the court’s exclusion of certain documents from the appellate record. After reviewing the record, we conclude that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in denying the father’s request for a deviation from the child support guidelines. We also conclude that the court’s error in excluding documents from the appellate record was harmless in this instance. However, we conclude that the court erred in ordering the child’s surname to be changed from Mother’s to Father’s. Therefore, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 05/25/17
Jason Baine v. Brenda Woods
W2016-00583-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ricky L. Wood

A father appeals the denial of his petition to modify a permanent parenting plan. The juvenile court found no material change in circumstance had occurred sufficient to modify the primary residential parent designation. The court also denied the father’s subsequent motion to alter or amend the judgment. Because the father failed to file a transcript or a statement of the evidence, we presume that the evidence presented at trial supported the court’s determination that no material change in circumstance occurred. Therefore, we affirm both the judgment of the juvenile court and the denial of the father’s motion to alter or amend the judgment to conform to the evidence presented at trial. We also find that this appeal is frivolous.

Court of Appeals 05/24/17
In Re Martese P.
W2016-01922-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christy R. Little

This appeal arises from the termination of Mother’s parental rights. The child was removed from Mother’s custody in November 2013, when the child was twelve months old, after Mother and the child tested positive for drugs. On the petition of the Department of Children’s Services, the juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected based on the finding that Mother committed severe child abuse as defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-102. In September 2014, DCS placed the child in the custody of Petitioners. One year later, Petitioners filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights. The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights on the ground of severe child abuse and the finding that termination of her rights was in the child’s best interest. Mother appealed. We affirm.

Madison County Court of Appeals 05/24/17
Jimmy D. Ogle v. Julie D. Duff
E2016-01295-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex A. Dale

Husband and Wife were married for approximately five and one-half years when Husband filed a complaint for divorce. Wife filed a counter-complaint for a divorce. The trial court granted the parties a divorce based on stipulated grounds, classified the parties’ assets as separate or marital, and divided the marital estate. Husband appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in (1) divesting a revocable trust of all assets and refusing to enforce a valid postnuptial agreement associated with the revocable trust; (2) classifying the increase in value of the marital residence as marital property; (3) classifying the increase in value of Husband’s premarital IRA as marital property; and (4) dividing the marital estate equally between the parties given the short duration of the marriage. We affirm as modified and deny Wife’s request for an award of attorney fees on appeal.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 05/24/17
In Re: Colby L.
E2016-01785-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit and support, contending that her failure to visit and support was not willful. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/24/17
William Dale Alsup v. David C. Alsup
W2016-00925-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

This is a declaratory judgment case. Decedent, mother to the parties, died testate, leaving a holographic will that divided her real property between her two sons, David Alsup/Appellant and William Alsup/Appellee. The probate court admitted the will to probate. Following completion of the probate proceeding, William obtained a survey dividing the property as provided for in Decedent’s will. David refused to accept the survey procured by William, and William then filed this action to quiet title and for ejectment. David filed an answer but did not file a counterclaim or a countervailing survey. William moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Henry County Court of Appeals 05/23/17
Lynn E. Harrison v. Edwin B. Harrison, Jr.
E2016-00672-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex A. Dale

This divorce case involves a marriage of eight years’ duration. Because the parties had reached an agreement with regard to the division of certain marital assets, the trial court was requested during a bench trial to divide the parties’ retirement and pension accounts, or the marital portion thereof, and other limited marital assets and liabilities. The trial court considered the relevant statutory factors and apportioned the remaining assets and liabilities 60% to the wife and 40% to the husband. The trial court also awarded the husband $1,000.00 in attorney’s fees and $180.42 in court reporter fees. The husband has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 05/22/17
State of Tennessee, ex rel., Deedra Climer Bass v. Jose Ramon Gonzalez-Perez
W2016-00655-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Nancy Percer Kessler

Jose Ramon Gonzalez-Perez (“Father”) appeals the March 7, 2016 order of the Juvenile Court for Shelby County (“the Juvenile Court”) finding him in contempt for non-payment of child support. Father raises several issues including whether Father can be held guilty of contempt when benefits Father receives pursuant to 33 U.S.C.A. § 901 et seq., the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, are exempt from “all claims of creditors and from levy, execution, and attachment or other remedy for recovery or collection of a debt . . . ” under § 916 of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act; whether the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act preempts inclusion of Father’s benefits from the calculation of child support; and whether Father was guilty of contempt for non-payment of child support. We find and hold that although the benefits Father receives are exempt from levy, execution, attachment, etc., Father may be found guilty of contempt; that the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act does not preempt the inclusion of the benefits Father receives from the calculation of child support; and that Father had the present ability to pay child support and willfully failed to do so making Father guilty of contempt. We, therefore, affirm the March 7, 2016 order of the Juvenile Court finding Father in contempt for non-payment of child support.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/19/17
Claire Nicola Bell v. Timothy John Bell - Concurring
E2016-01180-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

I concur in the majority’s determination that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s judgment (1) finding a material change in circumstances; (2) holding that “the best interest of the children [is] that [Mr. Bell] be the Primary Residential Parent;” and (3) awarding father 215 days of residential parenting time with the balance of days awarded to mother.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/18/17
Claire Nicola Bell v. Timothy John Bell
E2016-01180-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This appeal concerns visitation in a post-divorce setting. Claire Nicola Bell (“Mother”) and Timothy John Bell (“Father”) are parents of the two minor children at issue, ages eleven and seven at trial (“the Children”). Mother and Father divorced in 2012. Both parents were named “co-primary residential parents” and each parent received equal visitation time with the Children. Later, as the arrangement grew contentious, Mother filed a petition for modification seeking to be named exclusive primary residential parent. Father, in turn, filed a counter-petition seeking the same designation. A hearing was conducted before the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”). Afterward, the Trial Court named Father primary residential parent and awarded him increased visitation time with the Children. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/18/17
Debeora D. Whitfield v. Holly Thrasher Schroeder
M2016-00791-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

This appeal involves an option to purchase real estate. After a bench trial, the circuit court awarded the tenant a judgment for $12,000. Because the trial court did not make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law to enable meaningful appellate review, we vacate the order and remand for further proceedings.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/17/17
Phillip Jay Seifert v. Maria Coveny Seifert
E2016-01340-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Moyers

The principal issues in this divorce action arise from the parties’ antenuptial agreement. The trial court declared the parties divorced, classified the bulk of the assets as Husband’s separate property, divided the modest amount of assets that were classified as marital property, and awarded Wife alimony in futuro of $8,000 per month and alimony in solido of $500,000. Both parties appeal. Wife contends the court erred in classifying the bulk of the assets as Husband’s separate property and that the alimony awarded to her is insufficient. She also requests an award of attorney fees incurred on appeal. Husband contends that all of the income he earned during the marriage is his separate property, that all assets he acquired with that income is his separate property, and that the antenuptial agreement prohibited the trial court from considering the value of his separate property in awarding alimony to Wife. We affirm the trial court in all respects. We also find that Wife is entitled to recover reasonable and necessary attorney fees incurred on appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/17/17
Wayne A. Howes, et al. v. Mark Swanner, et al.
M2016-01892-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

Homeowners filed suit for breach of contract and fraud and/or negligent representation against the owners of a restoration business who performed repairs on their house after a fire.  When the defendants failed to respond to or appear at the hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, the trial court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs.  The defendants then filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60 motion and affidavits stating that they did not receive notice of the hearing on the motion for summary judgment.  The trial court held a hearing on the Rule 60 motion and denied the motion.  Because there is no transcript or statement of the evidence regarding the hearing on the summary judgment motion or on the Rule 60 motion, we must accept the trial court’s findings of fact.  We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ Rule 60 motion.  

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/17/17
Winston Keith Kyle v. Janice Gomer Kyle
W2016-01699-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor George R. Ellis

This is an appeal from a final decree of divorce. The trial court's final decree of divorce included a division of marital property but failed to adjudicate the issue of alimony. A subsequent order states that the parties “agreed that [Wife’s] claim for alimony in futuro and rehabilitative alimony . . . are dismissed.” The appellate record contains no transcript or statement of the evidence for our review as required by the Tennessee Rules of Appellant Procedure. Accordingly, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding. Affirmed and remanded.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 05/17/17
Jamie Kay Cardle v. Daniel Marcum Cardle
M2016-00862-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver

Wife filed a complaint for divorce following a fifteen-year marriage.  The trial court granted Wife a divorce, distributed the marital estate, and awarded Wife alimony.  The trial court granted Husband’s request to pay the alimony in solido award over a period of six years, with post-judgment interest payable at 10% interest per annum.  Husband appeals the division of some of the marital assets and debts, the award of alimony in solido, and the post-judgment interest award.  We affirm the trial court’s division of the marital estate and the award of alimony in solido, but we modify the post-judgment interest rate from 10% to 5.50% to conform with the interest on judgments statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/17/17